July 8, 2017

Some Like It Hot

We knew the day would warm up; the forecast included warnings about “fire weather:” low humidity, hot air, and gusty winds that would quickly cause any fire to burn hot and fast. When a heat advisory was added to the mix, we missed that news.

Charred fields at Joseph D. Grant County Park, San Jose, California
We were surprised to see the golden fields of Joseph D. Grant County Park charred. We'd also missed that news, of a fire that burned here a couple of weeks ago. The roadway, and some of the brush, was stained pink with the residue of the fire retardant that would have been sprayed by a low-flying tanker.

Charred tree and roadway stained pink with fire retardant, Mt. Hamilton Road, San Jose, California
Some majestic trees have been lost, but the ranch's historic homestead was unscathed. Close call.

We regretted not getting an earlier start; I envied cyclists who were already descending. By the time we reached the park, about halfway to the top, the heat was taking its toll on me. I found myself stopping more and more often, and it was taking longer than usual for my heart rate to recover.

I thought about aborting the climb. (That would have been the sensible choice.) I kept going. I was mystified by cyclists outfitted head to toe in heat-absorbing black gear; I'd planned to wear my Death Ride jersey in solidarity with those doing the 2017 edition today, but nixed that in favor of pure white.

The gusty winds from the northwest materialized, but offered little relief—the air was just too hot. Was the breeze evaporating the sweat from my arms that fast, or was my dry skin a warning of heat exhaustion?

Lick Observatory atop Mt. Hamilton, San Jose, California
When the observatory comes into clear view, you still have a ways to go. And I was, uncharacteristically, nearly out of water. Like virtually all the cyclists we saw that day, I repeatedly aimed for a (rare) patch of shade and stopped to rest.

This was a ride of many firsts. The first time I've seen so few cyclists on the mountain. My slowest ascent, to date (and hopefully, ever). The first time I drained both bottles of water on this climb. The first time I saw streaks of dried salt on my bike shorts. The first time I bought and consumed two full cans of Gatorade at the summit. (Thank you, Lick Observatory, for stocking that.)

The temperature in San Jose today topped out above 100F. I was so glad not to be one of the riders in Markleeville. Thirty-nine miles with 4,670 feet of climbing were more than enough for me.

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